Satellites detect no real climate benefit from 10 years of forest carbon offsets in California

Shane Coffield, Postdoctoral Scientist in Biospheric Sciences, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA and James Randerson, Professor of Earth Science, University of California, Irvine, The Conversation on

Published in Business News

Additionally, California could improve its offset contract protocols to make sure landowners can’t withdraw from an offset program in the future and cut down those trees. Currently there is a penalty for doing so, but it might not be high enough. Landowners may be able to begin a project, receive a huge profit from the initial credits, cut down the trees in 20 to 30 years, pay back their credits plus penalty, and still come out ahead if inflation exceeds the liability.

Ironically, while intended to help mitigate climate change, forest offsets are also vulnerable to it – particularly in wildfire-prone California. Research suggests that California is hugely underestimating the climate risks to forest offset projects in the state.

The state protocol requires only 2% or 4% of carbon credits be set aside in an insurance pool against wildfires, even though multiple projects have been damaged by recent fires. When wildfires occur, the lost carbon can be accounted for by the insurance pool. However, the pool may soon be depleted as yearly burned area increases in a warming climate. The insurance pool must be large enough to cover the worsening droughts, wildfires and disease and beetle infestations.

Considering our findings around the challenges of forest carbon offsets, focusing on other options, such as investing in solar and electrification projects in low-income urban areas, may provide more cost-effective, reliable and just outcomes.

Without improvements to the current system, we may be underestimating our net emissions, contributing to the profits of large emitters and landowners and distracting from the real solutions of transitioning to a clean-energy economy.


This article is republished from The Conversation, an independent nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Shane Coffield, NASA and James Randerson, University of California, Irvine. Like this article? subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Read more:
How debt-for-climate swaps can help solve low-income countries’ crushing debt and environmental challenges at the same time

Why corporate climate pledges of ‘net-zero’ emissions should trigger a healthy dose of skepticism

Shane Coffield received funding from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program for his graduate studies at UC Irvine.

James Randerson receives funding from NASA, the US Dept. of Energy Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the State of California Strategic Growth Council.


blog comments powered by Disqus